More than 95,000 people in Polk County – about 15% of residents – are unsure whether they have enough food to feed their families three meals a day, according to the United Way of Central Florida. For Polk State College students, there is help on campus.
Since 2017, the Lakeland Campus has been home to the Polk State Pantry, which provides students struggling with food insecurity with snacks, meals to be prepared at home, hygiene products, and more.
“When we started this, there was a nationwide conversation about college students facing food insecurity,” said Kim DeRonda, Polk State Testing and Tutoring Manager at the Teaching Learning Computing Center (TLCC). “Polk County is not one of the most advantaged of communities. We wanted to address the resource needs of our students. We opened the door for faculty and staff to volunteer their time and have done what we can to help.”
Located in LLC-2155A, the Pantry is donation-dependent. It accepts non-perishable dry goods such as snack bars, cereal, peanut butter, as well as hygiene products, frozen food, and fresh produce. Monetary donations are also accepted and can be made online here.
The Pantry does not currently have set hours, but DeRonda expects that to change soon. Students in need of resources can contact TLCC staff in person or at 863.297.1044 or DeRonda at email@example.com. Times can be arranged to accommodate students, and services are confidential. The Pantry is looking for staff and faculty volunteers as well as donations.
“We want to make sure that students in need know they’re welcome,” DeRonda said. “It’s important that those students have these resources.”
Located at WST-128 on the Winter Haven Campus, My Brother’s Keeper offers similar services. Staffed with student workers and part-time staff, My Brother’s Keeper is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday through Thursday or by appointment. Earlier this week, My Brother’s Keeper received a $6,000 donation from Publix Super Markets Charities.
My Brother’s Keeper is also the facilitator of the Soar Healthy Eagles program. Funded by the Florida Blue Foundation Food Security Grant, Soar Healthy Eagles partners with the United Way of Central Florida, Feeding Tampa Bay, and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences Extension Office of Polk County to help students increase their knowledge of nutrition and attain resources.
Aspects of the program include mentoring on how to sign up for SNAP, free healthy lunches, assistance with grocery purchases, and the chance to win gift cards. The program is available to Polk State students on all campuses.
To learn more about Soar Healthy Eagles, click here. To apply, click here. For more information about My Brother’s Keeper or to make an appointment, call 863.297.1010, ext. 3423, or email SALO@polk.edu. Online donations can be made here.
All donations made to Polk State Pantry or My Brother’s Keeper will be used to stock shelves for students in need. Students who do not face food insecurity can purchase snacks at vending machines or bookstores on both the Winter Haven and Lakeland campuses.
“Polk State Pantry and My Brother’s Keeper play a vital role in making sure our students in need don’t go hungry,” said Melvin Thompson, Director of Student Activities & Leadership Office. “Research has shown that students learn better when they’re well-nourished.”